MP Lim Biow Chuan shares what it’s like to be a Christian in the public eye
As Singaporeans, we have certain principles ingrained in us from our schooldays, thanks to National Education—“No one owes us a living”, “We must uphold meritocracy and incorruptibility” and “We must preserve racial and religious harmony”. Our multi-ethnic, multi-religious social fabric has been so carefully built and the peace we enjoy should never be taken for granted, we are often reminded. Mutual respect for other religions is codified into law and the government, and regularly enforced.
Has this made Christians in our political arena err on the side of caution and be less open about their faith? When thinking of Christians in Singapore politics, some names often come up—Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan Jin, who often shares about his faith in his social media posts and Mayor for Central Singapore District and MP for Jalan Besar GRC, Denise Phua, who is well-known as a disability advocate.
Another parliamentarian who readily declares his Christian faith is Mr Lim Biow Chuan, 59, MP for Mountbatten SMC, who has served in various leadership roles in Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church (AMKMC) since the early 1990s. “I wear my faith on my sleeve,” he says matter-of-factly. A quick Google search will unearth incidents where he stuck his neck out in sharing his views as a Christian.
The path to Christianity
The youngest child in a Taoist family, he attended a reading programme as a child in a neighbourhood Baptist centre. “The seeds were planted then but I remained a Taoist until I was in university,” Lim says.
It was his friends in the Law faculty and Raffles Hall at the National University of Singapore who were instrumental in leading him to Christianity. They frequently invited him to attend the Varsity Christian Fellowship or to go to church. Lim became a Christian in 1986 during his third year as an undergraduate.
“I became a Christian because I needed God’s help. At that time, I was struggling with my studies, wondering whether I could make it through University or not. But many Christians showed me kindness and care—I guess God put me in the right place at the right time,” he says. He attended St. John’s-St. Margaret’s Church with his friends as it was just around the corner from Raffles Hall.
After graduation, he attended the 7.30 a.m. service at Wesley Methodist Church, which was near his home at Rochor Centre, and eventually joined its Young Adult Fellowship. After a few years, Lim and his then fiancée decided to start afresh at another church. They married and settled in AMKMC and have been there ever since.
The young lawyer caught the eye of the MP of his constituency, Dr Lee Boon Yang, who suggested that he serve the community with his legal skills. He was appointed to the Town Council and the Community Welfare Committee in 1989. Thus began Lim’s journey as a grassroots volunteer.
Busy with building his legal career and grassroots activities, he started serving in church leadership only in 1993. His wife, Mdm Woon Cheng Yee, was then serving as the treasurer and he joined her in the LCEC.
Entry into the political arena
In 2005, he became AMKMC’s lay leader. Just as he was settling into the role, Lim was asked to stand for the 2006 General Elections. “The People’s Action Party (PAP) leadership was looking for someone who had served in the grassroots for many years, and I fit the bill.”
Initially, Lim was torn about entering politics. Would he be able to fulfill both roles? He consulted AMKMC’s then Pastor- in-Charge (PIC), Rev Stanley Chua (now TRAC President). “I wanted to be sure that Rev Chua had the support he needed as a PIC from the lay leader, not one who was too busy with work.”
They concluded that if Lim were to step down from church leadership to run for elections, it would send the wrong signal. “It would be saying politics comes before God, and God shouldn’t take second place,” Lim recalled.
“At the end of the day, I felt that if God had called me to both roles, and I was going into them with a willing heart to serve, then God would provide and lead. I just had to follow.”
With Rev Chua’s encouragement, he stood for election in the Marine Parade GRC. The PAP won in an uncontested walkover and Lim became a Member of Parliament.
As a Christian thrust into a public role, has he had to walk on eggshells when interacting with the public? “Being in the public eye, there’s less privacy but it comes with the territory. Whether you’re a church leader or a politician, it’s the same—people do observe you and you have to live up to certain standards.”
Hence, he falls back on these basic Christian tenets: “Love God and love others as yourself. Do so by showing love, care and concern for all through your actions.” Lim sets out to look after the vulnerable in the constituency and by assisting residents who need his help during Meet-the-People sessions.
Lim also makes it a point to attend functions organised by other religious groups, such as Taoist or Buddhist groups, an act that is always appreciated by the organisers as they know that Lim is a Christian.
Does he face awkward situations during these social events? Lim says he always explains to organisers before the event that he is unable to hold joss sticks as a Christian. However, he partakes in meals with them and extends greetings to the devotees. Each time, the organisers have always respected his wishes and simply appreciate the fact that he does not disdain their practices. “People respect you if you respect them,” he says.
Today, Lim serves as the chairperson of AMKMC’s governance committee and the joint management committee. His weekends are filled with either church or constituency events, so balancing and prioritising his time is key. Living life in the public eye can be tiring, but he is grateful to have the support of his wife and two daughters, Samantha and Rebecca. Church time is also family bonding time.
To Christians in the marketplace, he has these words of encouragement: “We all have influence in our place of work and in the community space. If we behave in a way that shows our Christian discipleship and our faith, then others will say, “Wow, your religion makes you someone that I hold in high regard. I want to know more about your faith.” Always pray and ask yourself: Is this what God wants? If yes, then do it to the best of your ability.”
Lianne Ong is the Editor of the Methodist Message. / Photos courtesy of Lim Biow Chuan and Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church